Chicken Lasagne

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So many people, my dad included, would turn their noses up at anything other than ‘proper’ lasagne. As far as he’s concerned, beef lasagne is the food of the gods. He’s basically Garfield in human form (without the ginger hair!). But for people who don’t like regular lasagne, or just fancy a change, this is really tasty. It does take a little more effort than beef lasagne, but in my opinion it’s well worth it.

To start with, you need:

1 large chicken (3 lb approx)

It’s entirely up to you how you cook the chicken, I roasted it, but you could boil or slow cook it if you so wished. This is something that can be done ahead, I cooked it and picked it the day before I put the lasagne together. Make sure the chicken is cooked through, let it cool and then pick off all the meat and cut into bite-sized pieces. You can save the carcass for making stock.

3 large leeks

Fry up the leeks in a little butter until they start to brown, then set them to one side.

You will also need:

1 pack (8 oz?) lasagne sheets (I prefer using fresh egg lasagne)

grated cheese, approx 6 oz

Now you have all the components, time to make the sauce.

3 oz butter/margarine

3 oz plain flour

1 1/2 pts chicken stock

1/2 pt white wine

1/4 pt single cream

Melt the butter in a large pan (it need to hold approx 3 pints!) and mix in the flour until it forms a ball. Over low/medium heat add the stock, a little splash at a time, making sure you mix it in well so it doesn’t go lumpy or curdle. Once all the stock has been added, pour in the wine and turn up the heat a little, stirring regularly. When it begins to thicken, remove from the heat and stir in the cream and about 1/3 of the grated cheese.

Now you’re ready to put it all together. I like to use a deep dish for lasagne, you get more layers, and more layers = more yumminess. I usually work out how many layers I can get based on how many pasta sheets I need per layer and how many sheets I have. I think I got 4 layers on this occasion, so I’ll base it on that. Cover the bottom of your dish (pyrex or a metal baking tray is usually best) with a layer of sauce, then pasta, 1/4 of the leeks, 1/4 of the chicken and 1/4 of the cheese. Pour over some more sauce, and do the next layer, pasta, leeks, chicken, cheese, sauce. Carry on until you have used all the chicken and leeks. Finish off with a layer of pasta, the remaining sauce and a little sprinkle of cheese. Bake at 200°C for 45 – 50 minutes. Serve piping hot with salad and garlic bread.

* As with most of my dishes, this can be made the day before and kept in the fridge until you are ready to bake it. Lasagne also freezes really well, either cooked or uncooked.

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White Chocolate & Raspberry Cheesecake

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I made this amazing cheesecake for last night, when we were round at hubby’s family’s. It went down a treat. It was just so creamy and light. I was concerned, after seeing what went into it, that it would be really really sweet and that you would only be able to eat a tiny slice, but we packed away a fair amount of it. Grandad said it was the best cheesecake he’d ever tasted (and he was a chef for many years!) and plates were practically licked clean, so I considered it a fair success!!

This is the recipe I used – http://uktv.co.uk/food/recipe/aid/580382. I converted the whole thing into imperial, so the quantities weren’t exact, but it still worked. I used all digestive biscuits instead of gingernuts, and I made it the day before so it had over 24 hours to set. Oh, and where it says to use whipping cream? I find it’s usually best to actually whip it, it makes the mixture stiffer. And I used icing sugar rather than caster sugar as I was concerned it might be a little bit gritty. So I basically re-wrote the whole recipe. Ooops!

Anyway, give it a go, it’s easy peasy, if a little bit messy with all the melting and using about 23 bowls, but it’s well worth the effort. Although I do warn you, it won’t last long!

Strawberry Brownies

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I had a batch of homemade brownie mix to use up, and a handful of strawberries, so I got a bit creative and came up with this. Easy peasy and really tasty.

Mix up a batch of your favourite brownies (this can be homemade, a box mix, whatever). Line an 8″ square tin and spread half the batter in the tin. Put a layer of sliced strawberries over the batter, then spread the remaining batter over the strawberries. Bake as directed in the recipe you’re using. And there you have it, lovely, soft, jammy strawberries in your brownies. What could be better?

Neapolitan Cake

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This cake is a bit of a special occasion cake, in that it requires a bit of extra effort. I saw a picture of it in a supermarket magazine, advertised as being on sale in their café, and thought I’d give it a go. I did a trial run which was a little bit like a couple of pancakes layered together, not exactly what I’d envisioned. The picture is from my second attempt, which was extensively tested by family members.

A helpful hint:- Weigh the mixing bowl you plan to use before starting, and make a note of it’s weight. When you come to splitting the mixture it’s a bit more exact and scientific than plopping a bit into each pan and hoping for the best. Yes, I speak from experience.

Here’s the basic cake mixture, I’ll do this in steps to make it a bit more simple.

12 oz sugar

12 oz margarine

5 eggs

12 oz self-raising flour

Cream the margarine and sugar together, then add eggs and flour alternately, ending with flour. At this point, weigh the bowl and contents, then subtract your recorded weight of the bowl in order to get the total weight of cake mixture. Divide the weight of the mixture by 3, and then put that amount into 3 separate bowls.

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1 tsp yellow food colouring

1 tsp red food colouring

2 tbsp cocoa powder

A little hot water

This is where it gets fun. In the first lot of mixture, put in 1 tsp of yellow food colouring. Mix really well, as despite being cool, you don’t want a marbled effect this time. In the second lot of mixture, add the red colouring. For the last lot, put the cocoa powder in a mug/egg cup/small bowl and mix in enough hot water to make a lump-free paste. Mix it into the cake mix, and you should have this:

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Base line and grease 3 round, shallow sandwich tins, and put the mix into each. If, like me, you only have 2 tins, you’ll have to do this in 2 lots. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes (until a knife/skewer comes out clean) at 190°C. Allow to cool slightly in the tin, then turn out to fully cool before icing.

This is where it gets more experimental. I will tell you how I did it, but depending on how thick/runny you like your icing, feel free to adjust the amount of icing sugar.

1 oz margarine

1 tbsp cocoa powder

A little hot water

4 – 6 oz icing sugar

Mix the cocoa powder with enough hot water to form a smooth paste. Set it to one side to cool. Cream the margarine, then add the cooled cocoa and the icing sugar, a little at a time, until you get the desired consistency. Spread the chocolate icing over the chocolate cake layer. Place the pink cake layer on top.

1 strawberry

1 oz margarine

4 – 6 oz icing sugar

I got a bit clever here. If you want to play it safe, use strawberry flavouring and red food colouring to get the right flavour and colour. If you’re feeling brave, pulverize the strawberry in a liquidiser, and scrape it out into a bowl. Mix in the margarine and then add icing sugar until you get the desired consistency. If it’s not pink enough for your tastes, add some red food colouring. Be careful, as liquid colouring will make the icing more runny. I personally think using real strawberries is amazing, it tastes so good. Spread the icing over the pink cake, and place the yellow cake on top. At this point my cake was starting to look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, so I stuck a toothpick down through the middle. Push it in so the top of it is level with the top of the cake, then when you put the final layer of icing on it will be hidden.

1 tsp vanilla flavouring

1 oz margarine

4 – 6 oz icing sugar

As before, cream the margarine and vanilla, and add the icing sugar until it’s thick enough. Spread over the top of the cake. IF you feel so inclined, you can decorate the cake with something ice-cream related, such as strawberries, chocolate flake sections or sprinkles. Serve and enjoy! (Just watch out for that toothpick)

 

Blackcurrant Jam

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I apologise for not having posted for a while, but as you can see, I have been a bit busy of late! It’s not that I have nothing to share with you, I have a great new recipe that I will get up as soon as I find the time. For now, you’ll have to make do with another jam recipe, as that’s my current ‘thing’.

My mum gave me half a bucket of blackcurrants at the weekend, it turned out to be 7.5lbs. It took me two days to get them cleaned, de-stalked and turned into jam. I did a 2lb batch on Monday and did all the rest in one go yesterday. I had a huge pan bubbling away on the hob, and I started getting my jars out of the cupboard. I estimated how many I’d need, and I was 1 or 2 short! Panic!! I looked all round the kitchen, emptied a jar of pasta sauce from the fridge into a plastic tub, and contemplated rummaging through the recycling box to see if I had any in there! It turned out I was safe, I think I actually had 2 jars spare. Anyway, here’s the recipe I used. For jam-making tips and techniques, check out my previous post – Rhubarb & Strawberry Jam.

4 lb blackcurrants

6 lb sugar

3 pts water

Remember, the quantities can be altered, as long as you keep the ratios the same. Remove the stems and leaves and wash the fruit. Put the blackcurrants in a pan with the water and simmer until they are tender. Stir in the sugar until it is dissolved and then boil hard to setting point.

I’m not sure of the exact yield, but I ended up with 14 fairly big jars of jam. Now I have to find homes for a few!!

Rhubarb & Strawberry Jam

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I like making jam. I love seeing rows of jars, full of sweet, fruity goodness, sitting in the cupboard. I love how much my hubby likes eating jam on toast. And I quite like eating jam myself.

I have been watching the rhubarb growing like mad, and keep wanting to make jam, but my strawberries are taking their time, and they are quite expensive to buy. So when I got a good offer on a couple of punnets of strawberries, I set out to make jam the next day. Strawberry and rhubarb is our favourite kind of jam, and since rhubarb is so easy to grow, it’s a cheap and tasty way of bumping up the fruit content. I don’t worry too much about ratios here, I guess ideally you’d want to go about half and half, but I just dump in what  I’ve got. I picked all the ready rhubarb, and used 1 punnet of strawberries plus the handful I picked from the garden.

Now before we start, please bear in mind the importance of choosing the correct sized pan. If you make jam on a regular basis and know what works, then great. If you haven’t made jam in while and can’t remember what you did last time, or if this is your first time, let me tell you this. A standard-sized pressure cooker pan is too small for 3+ lbs of fruit. Having coated every available surface, including my own skin, with molten fruit and sugar, I feel I am within my rights to lecture you quite sternly about this. You need a large pan, but not so large it is too big to fit on the hob. If the base of the pan is bigger than your ring/hob then it will not get hot enough. You need a pan with a fairly solid base on it. And you need to make sure you don’t over-fill it. I’d say no more than 1/3 full when you have all your fruit and sugar in. Preferably less full. If you think you may have too much fruit, split it into 2 batches. It’s better to be safe than cleaning for a week.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s begin.

I used 1 lb 3 oz of strawberries and 2 lb of rhubarb. This is negotiable, as long as you use the same weight of sugar as fruit. I also use lemon juice, 1 tbsp/lb of fruit. You can use pectin if you like, just follow the instructions.

So:

1 lb 3 oz strawberries, hulled and quartered

2 lb rhubarb, cut into 1/2 – 1 inch lengths

3 tbsp lemon juice

3 lb 3 oz sugar

Put the fruit and lemon juice in a pan, and heat over low – medium heat until the fruit begins to soften. Add the sugar and mix well. This next stage is important to stop the jam from burning. Keep the heat on medium and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. The best way to tell is to tap a wooden spoon on the base of the pan. If you can hear/feel the grainy texture of sugar, it has not dissolved. Once you’re sure it’s done, turn up to full heat. Put the jam thermometer in at this point, if you put it straight in at boiling point it may explode, and you don’t really want your jam laced with mercury. Keep boiling and stirring occasionally until the thermometer registers ‘Jam’ (107°C/225°F). At this point, remove the pan from the heat and allow the jam to cool slightly. This stops all the fruit from floating to the top of the jar later.

While waiting for the jam to boil, get the jam jars ready. It is really important to:

a) make sure the jars are clean

2) make sure the jars are hot so the hot jam doesn’t kill them

iii) heat the jars to kill bacteria

Wash the jars in hot soapy water and rinse well. Put them upside-down on a rack in the oven, on 100°C. Don’t put the lids in the oven as they usually have plastic seals in them. I find the best way to heat them is to put them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them, then fish them out and put them on a clean tea towel to drain. When the jam is ready to jar up, pull the jars out of the oven (please be careful, especially if there are children or pets about, hot glass and hot jam could cause a really nasty accident) and put them on a heat-proof surface. My preference is a wooden chopping board. Give the jam a stir and pour it into a jug or something with a bit of a spout, then carefully fill the jars nearly to the top. Wipe away any spills with a clean, damp cloth and put the lids on. Hold the jar with a towel while you tighten the lid. Allow the jam to cool. This is my favourite part: if you have lids with the little press-button on top, these will ‘pop’ as the cooling jam creates a vacuum. Don’t panic if you hear a few popping noises coming from the kitchen! Once the jars are cool, label them with the type of jam and the date. If you have a jar that’s only half-full, keep it to one side as your tester jar!!

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Cottage Pie with a twist

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I bought a 2.5kg bag of potatoes for 86p the other day, so the challenge is to think of ways to use them!! This is a bit different from cottage pie in that

a) it has sliced instead of mashed potatoes

b) it is layered a bit like a lasagne

Basically it’s a cross between cottage pie, lasagne and Lancashire hot pot. Cotagnepot? Hot lasage?

about 8 medium potatoes, par-boiled and cooled

1 lb minced beef

1 onion, diced

1 – 2 cloves of garlic

vegetables of your choice, I used carrots, peas, sweetcorn and a red pepper

1/2 pt beef stock

Lightly fry the onion, garlic and beef until the beef is browned. Meanwhile, boil the vegetables. (I fried the pepper with the meat) Drop a tin on the saucepan and spill half the vegetables all over the floor (optional). Drain the veg and add it to the meat. If you like, jazz up the beef stock with a dash of worcestershire sauce and a squirt of ketchup, pour it over the meat and veg. Slice up the cooled potatoes. Put half the meat mixture in a large oven-proof dish, and then lay half the potatoes over the top. Spread the rest of the meat  over the potatoes, and then lay the rest of the potatoes on it. Sprinkle some cheese on top if you like (cheese makes everything better). Pop it in the oven for about 30 minutes or until browned, at about 200°C.